Political Animal


May 11, 2012 3:44 PM Dog Whistle Watch

By Ed Kilgore

As you may have heard, Mitt Romney will be the commecement speaker at Liberty University—a.k.a., the School That Jerry Falwell Built—in Lynchburg this weekend. It will be an excellent opportunity to assess the skills which Mitt and his speechwriters have acquired in the fine art of the Christian Right dog whistle.

You can expect some hardy perennials (we’ve already seen a few in pre-released excerpts from his prepared remarks) like references to America’s “Judeo-Christian heritage” and “pro-family values” and “respect for human life,” along with excoriation of “activist judges” (though that one may have to be hedged a bit to make it clear there’s no problem with the “activist judges” that may soon declare the Affordable Care Act unconstitutonal) and “secularists.” But some of the newer items in the Christian Right/Tea Party vocabulary will undoubtedly show up, too, such as at least one extended shout-out to the Declaration of Independence (though perhaps not with any dangerous allusions to the church-state views of its principal author, Thomas Jefferson, who was from just up the road in Charlottesville), paens to “religious liberty” (i.e., freedom to discriminate), invocations of “constitututional conservatism” (i.e., the permanence of property rights and limits on federal power as expressed in 1789), etc.

It will be most interesting to see exactly how much attention Romney pays to the president’s support for same-sex marriage. On the one hand, this is one audience that will be pre-mobilized on the subject, and won’t need any specific urging to treat the November election as a “Cultural Antietam,” as Pat Buchanan put it today, much as Virginians love their Civil War references. His campaign may also want to use a fair amount of his stock speech emphasizing the economy to show that even people being trained to become culture warriors desperately want Mitt to unleash the nation’s job-creators.

On the other, Mitt may want to flex his muscles and let the MSM know it’s time to stop writing any stories about his problems with hard-core conservatives generally and with conservative evangelicals in particular. So some good bloody red meat that makes the crowd look like it’s ready to put Romney on its shoulders and carry him around the arena might be in order.

I’ll be watching closely.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Rathskeller on May 11, 2012 3:51 PM:

    I hope he sings for this one.

  • Benson the Dog on May 11, 2012 4:01 PM:

    The only graduation speech of Romney's I would 'watch closely' is if he gave the commencement address for my dog training class. He wouldn't make it through the first paragraph before we caged him and strapped the cage to the roof.

  • Peter C on May 11, 2012 4:06 PM:

    Barf! Better you than me, Ed.

    I'd rather have dental surgery.

  • Skip on May 11, 2012 4:08 PM:

    excoriation of “activist judges” ?

    Should he be taunting the judges that might actually take umbrage and declare the Act unconstitutional to make a point? Oh, wait...

  • T2 on May 11, 2012 4:11 PM:

    I'd like to hear Mitt go into a long exploration on the Mormon Church and how it differs from the Evangelical crazies being cranked out by Liberty. But I bet he won't mention his Church at all.

  • RT on May 11, 2012 4:16 PM:

    Are they still using Dred Scott as an anti-abortion dogwhistle, like Bush did in the 2004 debates?

  • Neil Bates on May 11, 2012 4:24 PM:

    Consider that Jesus definitely says divorce is sinful, but doesn't mention gay relations (albeit part of Mosaic law along with shrimp and mixed fabrics, as well as forgiving debts periodically.) So there's Reagan the practitioner of the first, and little concern among the "religious right" for any of the latter.

    Note Ann Romney says Mormonism is not a legit issue, but an opinion about a "religious issue" is for Obama. Really, a whole alternate and non-Biblical cannon and set of beliefs, compared to some specific moral opinion, "not an issue"? I don't care about the BoM myself (altho clearly not as well written as the Bible"), but all this a clear hypocrisy issue per the RR.

  • Neil Bates on May 11, 2012 4:29 PM:

    Also, Hannity lied IIRC on his show this afternoon. Hannity got after Obama for criticizing Romney, when according to Hannity Obama had the same opinion on gay marriage until the recent announcement. But no, Obama was for civil unions and Romney has been saying he opposes even that - denying even basic civil liberties in addition to the mantle of "marriage."

  • internet tough guy on May 11, 2012 4:35 PM:

    You know, if Mitt was going to go full birther, it would be here.

    Just sayin'.

  • MuddyLee on May 11, 2012 4:47 PM:

    Just discovered John Lee Hooker for President by Ry Cooder, from his new cd (Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down). Highly recommended if you like either Ry or John Lee. This really doesn't have anything to do with Mitt being at Liberty, except that event would certainly be improved if they played this song before Mitt came onstage.

  • suekzoo on May 11, 2012 4:47 PM:

    Liberty U has stick guidelines for student dress and hairstyle. So here's Mitt's opening:

    "It's such a pleasure to be here with you at Liberty University. All your haircuts are the right length."

  • delNorte on May 11, 2012 5:23 PM:

    "So here's Mitt's opening:

    'It's such a pleasure to be here with you at Liberty University. All your haircuts are the right length...'"


    "...and there's not a gay on in the house!"


    "That guy there, though, in the front row - your hair's a little too long, I think...and you're the only guy sitting with the Art Majors...anybody got a scissors?"


  • percy the dog on May 11, 2012 7:24 PM:

    Remember the Seamus!